Religion and the Spread of Human Capital and Political Institutions

Robert D. Woodberry

in The Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Religion

Published in print January 2011 | ISBN: 9780195390049
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Religion and the Spread of Human Capital and Political Institutions

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Although often ignored, religion has profoundly shaped political and economic conditions around the world. This claim is suggested by three historical divergences: a divergence between Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim regions of Europe (these differences emerged after the Reformation and began to dissipate only after World War II); a divergence between Protestant and Catholic settler colonies in Oceania and the Americas; and a divergence between the impacts of Protestant and Catholic missionaries on societies throughout the global South prior to Vatican II (which ended in 1965). This article discusses religion and the spread of human capital and political institutions, focusing on Christian missions as a quasi-natural experiment. It argues that both in Europe and in the global South, Protestants shaped human capital development (mass education and mass printing) and institutional development (civil society, colonial rule of law, and market economics)—especially prior to the 1960s. Together, these shaped elites' incentives and thus long-term prospects for economic development and political democracy.

Keywords: religion; human capital; political institutions; Christian missions; Protestants; Europe; education; civil society; rule of law; economic development

Article.  7644 words. 

Subjects: Economics ; Labour and Demographic Economics ; Economic History

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